Hand-Painted Custom Kicks Are The Coolest

Sink Or Swim Custom Kicks by Jill Forie
Photo: Sink Or Swim Custom Kicks

Here’s something that’s the best: you cop a new pair of shoes. You put them on. You stare at them on your own feet in admiration. Look at those spiffsters! Fresh as hell! And since you found them at a little off-the-track sneaker store while on vacation, ain’t nobody in YOUR town gonna have those. That’s right. As far as you’re concerned, they’re one of a kind. THAT is the BEST.

However, little sunshine buckets, there’s one more thing that’s even better: having a pair of sneakers that are actually one of a kind. This is the part where we introduce you to Jill Forie, the creator of Sink Or Swim Custom Kicks.

On a scale of one to “how she do dat?”, Jill’s art skills are insane. See those shoes up there? She hand painted them. And each pair—all 450 she’s created over time—is completely unique. Jill works closely with each customer to create a design that’s completely tailor-made. Once she even made a pair for Hayley Williams, who wore the crap out of them.

Jill’s currently working on her Masters in Berlin, but she took some time to answer a few questions for us. Ausgezeichnet!

MTV STYLE: What did you paint on your very first personal pair of custom kicks?
JILL FORIE: When I first started painting on shoes, I would draw out tattoos that I wanted but couldn’t afford to get, and I would paint them. I ended up getting a few of the ideas tattooed over the years, but I’m happy some of those designs only got as far as the shoes. The first few pairs for friends were usually album art or something from a movie.

Do you still wear your own designs?
I get asked this question a lot! Not really. My style is very simple, so I tend not to wear the types of shoes I sell. I do paint my own pairs, but it’s usually to swap colors around or add in small detailing.

What’s the average amount of time you spend working on one pair?
It highly depends on what’s going on the shoe. The average pair takes about 4-6 hours.

What are some designs that stand out as favorites?
I change my mind about this one all the time. I’m biased towards the shoes I’ve made based around horror movies because my artwork outside of shoes involves a lot of horror elements. I become really invested in those.

What’s the most bizarre request you’ve had?
I get some of the funniest emails! The first thing that pops into my mind is one girl who ordered a pair for her sister. She was explaining that her sister is kind of a hippie chick, so she wanted to go with a peace/love/Woodstock type of theme. Sure, OK, whatever you’re into. Then, she goes on to say how her sister is a really sexual person, and maybe I could put a nude portrait of her on the shoes. I’m open-minded and all, but that was not happening!

Do you draw inspiration from certain fashion designers, artists or musicians?
The more I think about where I draw inspiration from, the more I realize dropping names feels forced. To be honest, inspiration comes in all types of forms. Last week, my Masters program required me to be in Venice for the Biennale (which is a biggest biannual art event in the world) to see “what’s going on” in the art world and to get inspired. I found more inspiration in cracks on the street, the canal water, and the ornamental molding in old buildings. The art world doesn’t engage me as much as you’d think. Though, I did run into the Vans design team at a random exhibition, which was really cool.

Left: Hayley Williams’ Custom Pet Sematary Vans. Right: Heeeeeeeeere’s one of Jill’s many horror-themed pairs.
Photo: Sink Or Swim Custom Kicks

You’ve got a strong link to music and have even created shoes for Hayley Williams from Paramore (among others). Who would be your dream musician to work with? If you had free reign, what would you paint for them?

Being a part of the hardcore/pop-punk scene has helped turn Sink or Swim into what it is. I’ve never had any desire to sip white wine, wear all black and subscribe as a member to the “high-brow fine art” world. I love art. I study it, create it, respect it, frequent galleries, and travel the world just to experience it, but NY art life was never my scene.

Though I’m not a musician; being at a show, listening to music, interacting with the people I’ve met through music has always been my comfort zone. When I started this company, it never crossed my mind to display the shoes in a gallery or try to sell them at a store. I started cranking out shoes for friends in bands, including Hayley, and said, “Hey, take these on tour, beat them up, show them off, and jump around.” My shoes have a living, breathing, and moving gallery on people’s feet. My artwork gets to travel, dance, sweat, and after a tour, sure as hell stink. I couldn’t be prouder of that.

There are so many musicians that I would love to work with. It would be really awesome to make shoes for someone like Ke$ha simply because it would go far beyond painting a pair of shoes. I could imagine all kinds of materials being used, including power tools. I’m really interested in not only painting the shoes but becoming more sculptural with them.

Outside of good canvas painting shoes, what’s your favorite sneaker brand/model?
Painting or not, I’m a fan of canvas shoes so it’s no surprise for you to hear that I’m a “Vans girl.” I love all types of shoes, and I’ve acquired far too many pairs over the years, but Vans is top choice, especially Authentics. Whatever I’m wearing has to coordinate with my Vans!

Describe your personal style and some pieces of clothing you can’t live without.
When it comes to my personal style, I keep it simple. My tattoos and red hair make me colorful enough, so when it comes to my clothes/shoes, my palette tends to be more muted and earthy (by choice). Skinny jeans, a white v-neck (when I can find one without a paint stain), and a crisp pair of Authentics can do no wrong. Though, I do love sundresses. I have a slight addiction to ModCloth. I’m really tall, so buying dresses is a real pain (same goes for heels), and ModCloth sells really cute mid-length dresses that are affordable. I can pair any casual dress with a pair of Vans as well. I’m sure I’ll wear a pair with my wedding dress in the future. (Kidding…or am I?)

Jill is on a brief shoe hiatus while she studies for her Masters Degree, but will be re-opening shop in the fall!

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